Alloway and Southern Ayrshire FAMILY HISTORY SOCIETY Robert Burns Cottage, Alloway, Ayr
| Home | Contact | Events | Publications | Resources | Links | Membership | Interests | Activities | Notices |

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

19 Nov 2013 - "Genealogy and Newspapers"

Around 23 members and guests heard Chris Paton's informative talk on "Genealogy and Newspapers". To help with our note-taking, he handed out a list of useful website links that will be included in the "Links" section.

The predecessors of our Newspapers were few and far between in the 17th Century - the earliest on record concerned the "Reports of the Devonshyre & Cornwallshyre Rebelles" in 1549, which related to the Prayer Book Rebellion when the Catholics of the Western Counties rebelled against the enforcement of the use of the Book of Common Prayer.  In 1690 the "Worcester Postman" appeared, in 1707 the "Press and Journal" (Aberdeen & Inverness) and in 1737 the "Belfast Newsletter".

Many broadsheets published between 1650 and 1910 are available at the National Library for Scotland.  In these records, we were shown that scandal was not absent in papers of the 19th Century - their "The Word on the Street" website records a "Sale of a Wife" in Scotland in 1828 when a woman called Mary McIntyre was put up for sale at auction in Edinburgh... see: To get to the index of others, click on the "Search & Browse" link on that page.

As today, early newspapers covered not only news but also family announcements. Births, Marriages and Deaths are usually to be found close to the date of the event. "Thank you" notices are published a little later, whereas "In Memoriam" notices may appear years after the event. 

Much can be gained from short local articles such as details of the causes of death from accidents, who won a ploughing competition, etc.  Advertisements for lettings of houses and flats can give information on accommodation.  Notices such as those for probate, benefactors or bankruptcies often give names and dates.  Even the driest reports of planning and other meetings can give surprising detail such as the chain of occupancy of a building when someone is trying to overturn a building restriction.

The National Library for Scotland worked on a project
"Newsplan" from 2005 to photograph pages onto microfilm and this is often available in local libraries. is the project's homepage which shows which papers have been copied.

Viewing microfilmed pages can be problematic - the quality of the photograph
and image compression or subsequent optical character recognition software can both lead to problems with the resulting text as it may not be successful in recognising the small font common in old newspapers. The version of the newspaper digitised may sometimes be a "Late Edition" containing lots of sports results so the other articles will probably have been have been removed to provide the space.  In some libraries the original early edition can be consulted on request if there is a problem.

Disasters make good copy, so if your ancestors were involved you may find them featured in articles as victims of crime, traffic accidents or natural disasters. Regional newspapers "borrowed" content from each other frequently, so that an article originally appearing in a local one may be seen later in another and only this latter one has been archived.

The British Library in London was, until recently, the main depository for newspapers, but this is currently being moved to a special facility in Boston Spa in West Yorkshire.  Eventually it will house over 700 million pages of content.  An index is available on The British Newspaper Archive at: where there are some viewable with free access.

Through the National Library of Scotland, it is possible to register free for access to the Licensed Digital Collections for about 2 weeks, after which you will be sent a password giving long-term access.  This provides access to British Library 19th century newspapers, the Burney Collection, The Scotsman, from 1870-1950, The Times.
from 1785-1985 and other newspapers. See:

The National Library for Wales has Welsh Newspapers on-line from 1804-1919, the Manx National Heritage museum has Manx newspapers from 1792-1960 and covers Irish newspapers, some from 1738.
D.C.Thomson Family History and Find-my-Past have formed a partnership to work on the British Newspaper Archive but much of this this is also pay-per-view. have some Scottish papers on line.  The Dunfermline Journal has an unusual resource - the Perth Newspaper Index Cards which were gifted to them and which have indexed items for 1809-1990 and for Cupar from 1833-1987. Access is available on

Google Newspapers at consists of 95% US or Canadian content, but has one English and four Scottish papers - the Glasgow Advertiser 1783-1802, Glasgow Herald 1806-1991, the Evening Times 1914-1990 and some 1957 editions of the Bulletin & Scots Pictorial.

The London, Edinburgh and Belfast Gazettes, e.g., are the Official Newspapers of Record for the UK and have recently opened a beta-test site at  These are useful for records of military and civilian honours, histories of the ownership of companies or businesses, bankruptcies, etc.  The London Gazette first appeared as the "Oxford Gazette" on 7-Nov-1665 when the Royal Court was there, avoiding the Great Plague in London, and the first page can be seen here:

Patricia & John Weston

Older Postings